What Is Oral Sex?

Medically Reviewed by Gabriela Pichardo, MD on July 02, 2023
3 min read

Oral sex is a common sex position among couples of all ages and genders. Also referred to as fellatio or cunnilingus, this position involves oral stimulation of a partner’s genitals or anus.

Oral sex is often a part of foreplay before intercourse. Many couples use it as a way to warm up or to get in the mood for intercourse, but oral stimulation can also play a part during or after, too. This position can also be just as pleasurable as a stand-alone act.

Oral sex requires a partner and whichever position works most comfortably. One partner uses their mouth, lips, or tongue to stimulate their partner’s penis, vagina, or anus. Oral sex gives you and your partner another way to pleasure each other apart from regular genital intercourse.

Eighty-five percent of sexually active adults between the ages of 18 and 44 report having had oral sex at least once with a partner of the opposite sex. However, it’s important to note that oral pleasure isn’t just for heterosexual couples. People in both same-sex or mixed-sex relationships can enjoy giving or receiving oral stimulation with their partner.

Oral sex can have many different names, both formal and informal. Experts have given the various types of oral stimulation their own medical terms:

Fellatio. Stimulation of the penis with the lips, tongue, or teeth. It usually involves a sucking or licking motion, but may also include the use of the throat or teeth.

Cunnilingus. Stimulation of the vagina or clitoris with the mouth. This usually includes sucking or licking outside and around the vulva.

Anilingus. Stimulation of the anus with the mouth or lips.

Although these are the clinical terms, there are also more casual terms to describe oral sex, which include:

  • Going down
  • Giving head
  • Rimming
  • 69
  • Blow job

While oral sex may be a fairly common practice, there are a few misconceptions surrounding it:

Myth: Oral sex is not sex. Studies of teenagers and college students in the past decades show that many don’t consider oral sex to be real sex. Instead, they see it as a pleasurable activity that is lower-risk and allows them to preserve their virginity. Reports also show that many teens and young adults try oral sex before they engage in genital intercourse.

However, while oral pleasure is distinctly different from sexual intercourse, it is still considered a sexual act. Oral sex involves genital contact and is an intimate act. It can be just as pleasurable as sexual intercourse, and also has some of the same risks involved, too.

Myth: There aren’t any risks with oral sex. Even though oral sex doesn’t come with the risk of pregnancy, there is still the risk of getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD). While it’s true the chances of getting an STD through oral sex are a bit lower than with genital sex, the risk is still there. Some common STDs that can be passed orally are:

Oral sex can be given or received by people of all genders, and it’s important to ensure that both partners are consenting.

Talk to your partner about trying oral sex. The first step is to communicate with your partner about giving each other oral pleasure. Some studies show that heterosexual women may be more hesitant to ask their male partner for oral pleasure. However, that same study also showed that men wanted to perform oral sex more often with their partners.

Talk to your partner about how you can pleasure each other, as oral stimulation is such an intimate act. You can begin by kissing, touching, and then gradually move on to using your mouth on your partner in a way that they like.

Possible risks. Oral sex comes with the risk of contracting an STD. If you are engaging in casual oral sex, use protection like a condom or dental dam. These products can protect both you and your partner and lower the likelihood of getting an STD.

If you or your partner have cuts, sores, or ulcers in your mouth or around your genitals or anus, avoid oral sex until they are healed or treated to avoid further complications. Not all symptoms of STDs are clear right away and can cause problems with fertility and general health.

Show Sources


National Center for Biotechnology Information: “Oral sex and oral health: An enigma in itself.”

Victoria State Government: “Oral Sex.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “STD Risk and Oral Sex - CDC Fact Sheet.”

National Center for Biotechnology Information: “US teenagers think oral sex isn’t real sex.”

Queensland Government: “Oral Sex and STIs - what you need to know.”

PsyPost.org: “Study finds straight men want to perform oral sex on their partner more often.”

View privacy policy, copyright and trust info